A new prison to be constructed as a replacement for a 150-year-old structure in Lansing that has housed Kansas inmates will contain more beds.

Just barely, however. The changeover, which was approved as part of a 20-year lease agreement the state entered into with CoreCivic, calls for a 2,432-bed facility housed within a 400,544-square foot structure. The state’s largest correctional complex, originally constructed in the 1860s, currently operates with 2,405 beds.

The additional accommodations will be inadequate to ease overcrowding enough to keep the state from housing some prisoners in county jails at an expense that amounts to thousands of dollars per day. …

Complaints have arisen among prisoners who have claimed they were taken out of programs, such as preparatory work toward a high school equivalency degree, when relocated to county lockups. Liz Rice, director of classification for the Kansas Department of Corrections, expressed surprise regarding such complaints because a goal for programs offered is to help recidivism among inmates by helping them better integrate into society upon release.

A more significant increase in the number of beds at the new Lansing facility would have been optimal. But then, that would have raised the cost of construction even more and created additional problems for a state attempting to solve budget shortfalls. …

A thorough evaluation of the prison system in Kansas is needed for lawmakers to gain a firm grasp of issues that affect the safety and welfare of those who are incarcerated, those who are employees with the Kansas Department of Corrections and those who living in freedom outside the prison walls.

Crowded conditions create inhumane conditions that elevate tensions inside prison walls. Prison unrest erupted at state facilities in July and September with riots at El Dorado and Norton, respectively. …

When former Gov. Sam Brownback advocated for a new Lansing prison, he mentioned the aged structure and poor design and commented, “It just needs work. The place is crumbling down.″

The same can be asked of the state’s prison system, especially when based on problems that have arisen within the past year and concerns that mount anytime an inmate is transported and housed in a county jail that was not intended for such purposes.

— GateHouse Kansas